Over 100 Protestors Converge at GEO Group’s Shareholder Meeting
On April 29, 2015, over 100 people joined a protest outside the GEO Group’s annual shareholder meeting at the Boca Resort and Club in Boca Raton, Florida. GEO, a private prison firm that trades on the New York Stock Exchange, bills itself as the “largest provider of correctional services in the world.”
Groups participating in the protest included PLN’s parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), as well as members from Grassroots Leadership, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Enlace International, SEIU-Florida, the Palm Beach Environmental Coalition and Dream Defenders groups on campuses across Florida.
PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, an activist shareholder who owns a small number of shares of GEO Group stock, attended the meeting. When he asked about recent reports of hunger strikes by immigrant women held at the GEO Group-operated Karnes County Family Detention Center in Texas, he was informed by a GEO executive that there was no hunger strike; rather, it was a “boycott of dining facilities” at the detention facility.
GEO Group founder and CEO George C. Zoley further remarked that the women detained at Karnes awaiting asylum hearings “have a higher standard of living” than they had elsewhere, implying that they should be grateful for being incarcerated – along with their children – at the company’s for-profit detention center.
Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes prison privatization, has been organizing support for the immigrant families held at Karnes, as well as families incarcerated at another detention facility in Dilley, Texas operated by Corrections Corporation of America.
“We know that GEO Group and other private prison companies thrive when they are able to obscure the truth about their business practices and what happens inside of their facilities,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles, Grassroots Leadership’s Director of Criminal Justice Programs. “We are here in solidarity with local South Florida communities to shine a light on the ugly reality of privatized incarceration and detention, and this particular company’s attitudes toward those they keep behind their bars. Our message to GEO’s shareholders is that no one should profit from incarceration.”
According to Friedmann, who was the only activist who gained entrance to the shareholder meeting, the company lauded its performance over the past year, including “no major disturbances or operational problems” at its correctional and detention facilities. Further, GEO stated one of its goals for 2015 was “organic growth” with new and existing clients. The company currently receives 42% of its revenue from contracts with federal agencies, including the Bureau of Prisons and Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement; GEO also operates private prison in Australia, South Africa and the UK.
“At Grassroots Leadership, we believe no one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings,” said Charles. “We live in the most incarcerated society in the history of the world. Every day we confront a prison industry that preys on pain because our addiction to locking people up dehumanizes all of us.”
Although GEO Group executives repeatedly cited efforts to increase rehabilitative programming in the company’s facilities, and an interest in becoming a “leader in offender rehabilitation,” in December 2014 GEO Group successfully objected to a shareholder resolution, submitted by Friedmann, that would have required the company to spend just 5% of its net income on programs and services designed to reduce recidivism rates for offenders in the company’s correctional facilities. [See: PLN, Feb. 2015, p.48].
At the shareholder meeting, Friedmann told GEO executives that if they are serious about rehabilitating prisoners and have faith in their ability to do so, then the company should base performance measures for all of its private prison contracts on reductions in recidivism rates – a practice that is being adopted at the Ravenhall Prison, a facility currently being built by GEO Group in Australia that is expected to open in late 2017.
The protest outside the GEO meeting included a street theatre performance by Dream Defenders members titled “GEO-o-poly,” based on the Monopoly board game, which depicted the connections between slavery and for-profit incarceration, with the performers wearing shackles and chains and referring to the event as a “slaveholders meeting.”
There was a heavy police presence at the peaceful demonstration, with on-duty officers monitoring the protesters outside and off-duty officers providing security inside the shareholder meeting. There were no arrests.
Sources: HRDC and Grassroots Leadership joint press release (April 29, 2015); Palm Beach Post; www.browardpalmbeach.com; www.geogroup.com.au
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